Romans 12:9-21, Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28 August 30. 2020
I want to start with a classic story I last shared 11 years ago, so most of you either haven't heard it or have forgotten it. It is about misunderstanding what is meant by certain terms. I tie it into the misunderstanding between Peter and Jesus as to what the term Messiah actually meant.
A minister's widowed wife was planning a week's vacation to another denomination's summer camp. But she, being a bit nervous about this solo trip and being prim and proper, worried about the bathroom facilities. So she wrote to request assurances that the facilities were clean, private and accessible. As she wrote, she felt the word toilet was a bit crude to write, so instead she used the term bathroom commode. But for her, even that sounded a bit forward, too, so after the first page she abbreviated it BC. “Does the cabin where I'll be staying have its own BC? If not, where is the BC located.”
The camp manager took the lady's check with the cover letter and gave the rest to the senior staff member to handle. Well, he read her questions and was baffled as to what BC might mean. He talked it over with some staff and someone knew the lady was the wife of a famous Baptist preacher so they decided it must stand for Baptist Church. So they wrote to assure her that there was indeed a BC. “Dear Madam, we are pleased to inform you that there is a BC and it is located just 9 miles north of our campground. It is capable of seating 250 people at one time. We admit it is quite a distance away if you are used to going regularly, but you will be pleased to know that many people take their lunches along and make a day of it. They usually arrive early and stay late.
“The last time we went it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. In fact, there is a fundraising supper planned to expand for more seats; it will be held in the basement of the BC.
“Personally, I feel bad I don't go more often, but as we grow older, it seems to be more of an effort, especially in cold weather. If you decide to come to our campground, perhaps I can go with you the first time, sit with you, and introduce you to all the folks!”
Now that is confusing! And funny. If you were to make a list comparing what happens at a BC and a Baptist church, there'd be some overlap but really, not much. My connection here is we could make a list contrasting the two views that Jesus and Peter had about what Messiah meant. And the problem for Peter, as Jesus pointed out, “ you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” The Messiah was to be divine and Peter could not imagine any way that could include the list Jesus just gave. So I want us to make our own list with two columns, one labeled human things and the second divine things. And then we find themes or traits in our readings and put them in the proper column.
Here's a list I came up with which I think would correspond to Peters: Human: weakness, defeat, death, suffer, sacrifice. And the Divine list: victory, healings, feeding, transfiguring, miracle working. (slide) Seems pretty cut and dried. Unless you know what we know, Jesus is human and divine. So these columns don't necessarily work for him.
Do any of you remember what a Venn Diagram is? I'm relating it here because it is a way to do our list displaying items that overlap. And with our understanding that Jesus is both divine and human, the two columns I shared would have those items included in the shared traits. (slide)
Peter rebuked Jesus because his list was black and white with no room for overlap. Jesus was divine, was God. God doesn't die, God can't be defeated, God receives sacrifice—is not offered as a sacrifice. But those are exactly the things Jesus did. The divine and human are combined in the Messiah; suffering turned into death which looked like defeat which became victory when the Messiah rose again. Weakness became power, flesh and blood become transfigured. The divine Jesus becomes fully human. But that was beyond Peter's ability to understand. And if I'm honest, it is beyond my ability to understand. Theologians have spent 2000 years trying to make it understandable. But as I said 2 weeks ago, quoting the theologian Augustine from the third century in Latin, “Si comprehendis, non est Deus. If you think you understand, it's not God you're talking about.” So let's not be too hard on Peter.
But to argue with the Messiah... I think we can agree that was not smart. Peter had just received a blessing from Jesus. We read it last week, “Blessed are you, Peter bar Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” But today we read of Jesus telling his disciples what Messiah will mean. And good old Peter once again puts his own thoughts out front and center...assuming he knew better than the Son of God! Jesus warned of this “Rock” becoming a stumbling block; a hindrance to the mission the Messiah is here to carry out.
So does Jesus dismiss Peter, “fire” him as a disciple? No,he reminds Peter of the proper place of a disciple, any disciple, every disciple; you and me as disciples. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” All of us, Peter included, are to follow Jesus, not our own wisdom. We are to seek the things of God before human things. And that sounds great-- but it is difficult. We can, like Peter, choose the ways of the world before the things of God. It is hard to put divine things first especially in the media immersed, closely connected-- yet divisive-- world in which we are living today. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. We don't lead Jesus, we don't overrule Jesus, we don't make our own path; we are called to follow Jesus. And I understand that is a broad statement and there are different views of what following Jesus means. For some following Jesus means social disobedience. For some it is obeying civil authorities. But rather than making our own lists, Paul gave us a list; not exhaustive but informative: Hate evil; hold on to the good, show honor, serve, hope, be patient when suffering and persevere in prayer. Be generous and show hospitality. Bless/love your enemies, live in harmony, be humble, do not seek your own revenge. It is kind of wrapped up with his opening line, “Let love be genuine.”
And this passage also shares what is a key part of being part of the community of faith; of our church: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” A favorite quote about in the church is this, shared joy is doubled joy, shared sorrow is halved sorrow. That is partly community, partly the mystery of the Spirit of God working in a faith community.
Mystery. As I mature in faith, this idea of mystery has become more important. I am often like Peter, I want to tell God just how life should work. In humility, I need to admit that I don't understand the way of God or how God is working in the world.
I want to share an experience that happened to me this week. I woke up early one morning so was doing my prayer time at like 5:30. So it was dark and the weather was cool, so I went out back and walked as I prayed. If you've been in our backyard, you know we have a pathway made out of bricks. I've spent time this summer replacing some bricks that were broken and chipped. As I worked, I thought it strange that they just put that path together with bricks in no apparent pattern, kind of random. Back to my prayer time, I was praying specifically for Greg who's suffering another round of physical issues. And I went to the very question I always tell you we can't expect to get answered, Why? “Why are you allowing Greg to suffer like this? Why aren't you answering our prayers the way we want?” And with my head bowed, suddenly I saw the pattern in the bricks! And it came to me, we don't always get to see the pattern of God's working in the world. There is a pattern, God is working, but it is a mystery. Occasionally, the pattern comes clear, but not often.
Peter couldn't understand the pattern that was in place for the Messiah. But the pattern was there. He misunderstood what the Messiah was called to do. But Jesus knew. And so it was up to Peter, not to correct Jesus, but to follow Jesus. Audrey West put it this way, “As Matthew’s narrative unfolds, the solid rock on which the church will stand malforms into a stumbling block that threatens to obstruct Jesus’ mission.” Jesus is the solid rock upon which our lives and our church are to be built. Seek to follow. Trust not in the wisdom of this world but the wisdom in the scriptures; words of Jesus, lessons from Paul, an overall pattern that gives us the path to salvation through a God of love and mercy and grace. We won't always know the why or the how of God's working in our lives, but that's when we need to rest in his unchanging grace. Even when God's face seems hidden, God is there.
By faith, build your life on the solid rock, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. And then follow the Messiah by sharing his love and grace. Amen.
Hymn: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
Prayers: Amy and Kevin Sullivan
Tom and Ruth